Inside story of millionaire quietly backing Pisasale
TO understand how hard businessman Lev Mizikovsky will pursue something, consider his reaction to a $219 traffic fine for crossing a white line on his custom-built Harley Davidson.
Most people cop the fine. Not Mizikovsky, the founder of Brisbane-based homebuilding outfit Tamawood.
He's instead used a road engineer and lawyers to fight the ticket. Then he's taken it to appeal at Brisbane's District Court.
It's not the first legal action he or his companies have tackled either. There's been a defamation case against TV show A Current Affair that he unsuccessfully battled all the way to the High Court.
There are copyright stoushes with rival building firms; clashes against council or building authority decisions.
That does not make him litigious, Mizikovsky says. "I think it's my social responsibility when things are wrong, to point it out," he tells The Courier-Mail.
Business is fought with equal resolve. He's now in the spotlight because for the second year running Mizikovsky aims to topple a board member of Brisbane-based debt-chasing outfit Collection House, in which he has a 12 per cent stake.
The Courier-Mail also revealed this month that he had been helping pay legal bills of fallen Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale, who is battling charges ranging from corruption to illegal possession of a sex drug.
It's because Pisasale is a friend, Mizikovsky says, adding his dealings with the former politician have always been appropriate.
Mizikovsky has come a long way from his birthplace of Russia in 1956. He grew up in St Petersburg, the son of doctors - his father was also a former Lt Colonel in the Soviet military. But Mizikovsky grew jaded with the Soviet system.
"It was an awful place … the bosses kept on lying," he says.
He describes a system where authorities would get kids to take books out of the school library and burn them, and then issue a new version of history.
He left in his early 20s, heading to Europe, New Zealand and finally Australia in 1988. An architectural draftsman, he with colleagues created Tamawood, whose brands now include Dixon Homes.
The experience did not make him a neo-capitalist as opposed to communist.
"In Australia, we have a reasonable balance," he says.
He's financially thrived in that balance. A Courier-Mail survey of assets show his close interests own roughly $100 million in stock in four companies - Tamawood, Collection House, home supplies firm Astivita and Advance Nanotek, which makes special materials for products such as sunscreen.
He and his private companies also own at least 48 properties costing $30.3 million, ranging from Brisbane music hall Leftys to a five-bedroom house in Ipswich's Yamanto. Despite the money, he's typically not a snazzy dresser; he keeps his hair and beard cropped short and may appear at shareholder meetings in collared T-shirts.
Mizikovsky, who has four children, can make a hard point with his wealth. Go back to the traffic ticket.
At 1pm on a Sunday in December 2016, Mizikovsky was riding the Harley at Mt Nebo, a winding mountain road just outside Brisbane that is popular for motorcycle enthusiasts.
As he turned into a corner, a mounted policeman behind him video-recorded Mizikovsky allegedly crossing the middle line by about 30 centimetres for about 2 seconds. When stopped and asked why he was over the line, according to court documents filed by the police, Mizikovsky told the officer: "Uh, I didn't think I was".
Mizikovsky contested the ticket in Pine Rivers Magistrates Court in March this year. He lost, but now has appealed to Brisbane's District Court.
His appeal detail a series of legal reasons deployed to kill the ticket: the left-hand road surface had been poor and the bend's sharpness legally justified moving to the road's best part to improve visibility.
Another reason was, while Mizikovsky did not recall crossing the line, if he did so it was inadvertent due to the "particular dynamics of the large motorcycle that he was riding as he decelerated into the corner".
His appeal even argues Magistrate Trevor Morgan had erred when citing his own motorbike experience, saying it did not extend to Mizikovsky's large vehicle. The magistrate had, according to court documents, "expressed doubts about whether the appellant (Mizikovsky) honestly believed that he had not crossed the solid line".
The police's defence says Mizikovsky's appeal lacks merit.
The businessman's wealth also is dynamite in corporate fights. Take how last year, Mizikovsky complained of problems with accounting of millions of dollars in software for Collection House.
While Collection House rejected his claims, Mizikovsky's 12 per cent stake helped vote off the board then audit committee head Phil Hennessy and company chairman Kerry Daly. This year, Mizikovsky, again citing the software, wants to remove current chairman Leigh Berkley. Collection House says it's a smokescreen to put Mizikovsky's nominees on the board.
After last year's boardroom execution, you would expect Daly - who had worked with Mizikovsky at Tamawood for years - to be bitter.
But Daly tells The Courier-Mail he still gets along with Mizikovsky, who had hugged him after the boardroom bloodbath.
"He's a complex character," Daly says of Mizikovsky. "But his integrity and honesty is beyond question."
Mizikovsky had been successful at Tamawood partly because he broke down complex operations to simple piecemeal tasks, Daly says. While somewhat autocratic in management style, Daly says the Tamawood founder was "very fair and very firm".
Asked about management style, Mizikovsky remarks he doesn't think he was particularly bad because people tended to work for him for years.
BOARDS NEED TO 'PROTECT SHAREHOLDER INVESTMENTS'
He also says he's not ruthless in business. "It's unfortunate that (with) a lot of boards, it's about relationships between directors rather than about the business at hand, which is protecting and hopefully growing shareholder investment," he says.
That relationship anecdote leads to a question about Pisasale. Mizikovsky was a 30 per cent holder in Perth-based Advance Nanotek (then called Antaria) when Pisasale was a director for $80,000 a year. It was an extremely rare case of a full-time politician also being on an ASX-listed company's board.
They were friends, Mizikovsky owned homes in Ipswich, and Tamawood had even fought Ipswich council in court. All the parties maintained there was no conflict of interest and Mizikovsky today maintains the appointment was valid, citing the politician's previous work background in the chemicals industry and ability to get people going.
"I think he (Pisasale) did a good job," Mizikovsky says.
One of Mizikovsky's arguments against Collection House took aim at a potential boardroom conflict of interest.
But companies in which Mizikovsky has stakes in also have related-party dealings.
In 2012 and 2013, for instance, he bought 53 properties from Tamawood for almost $25.5 million. It dovetailed with Tamawood buying back shares, bringing $27.81 million for Mizikovsky's stock. Both deals followed shareholder approval and independent expert reports noting the transactions as fair and reasonable.
Mizikovsky says it is not fair to put the alleged Collection House conflict of interest in the same boat as his dealings. The home purchases, for example, were only done because Tamawood was having trouble offloading homes and "we could not maintain volumes without reducing margin".
If anything, Mizikovsky says those purchases financially hurt him. "I took one for the shareholders," he says. Property records show he still owns a string of residential properties from that time - and some that have been sold were at a loss. One four-bedroom Ipswich home, for instance, cost him $372,000 in 2012 and finally sold for $340,000 in 2017.
Nowadays, he gets to relax somewhat more. He's on a cruise in Europe when The Courier-Mail interviews him - and still rides motorbikes, a hobby of two decades. "It clears my head," he says. The businessman no doubt often has many things on his mind.